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Welcome to the July 18, 2022, edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Research engineer Teven Le Scao, who helped create the new artificial intelligence language model called BLOOM. As AI Language Skills Grow, So Do Scientists' Concerns
Associated Press
Matt O'Brien
July 17, 2022

Scientists are worried about the use of large language models in chatbots and other technologies, not least because their creators conceal their inner workings and the flaws that can cause such systems to spread misinformation. Stanford University's Percy Liang said companies face competitive pressure not to expose large language models' underpinning technology, or to partner on community standards. A group of scientists worked with France's government to launch the BigScience Large Open-science Open-access Multilingual Language Mode (BLOOM) large language model, which was developed to counter closed models like Microsoft's GPT-3. BLOOM functions across 46 languages, while most systems concentrate on English or Chinese.

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Computing Architecture Protects Sensitive Private Data
Columbia Engineering News
Holly Evarts
July 15, 2022

Researchers at Columbia University and the semiconductor IP and software design company Arm have developed a computing architecture to safeguard sensitive private data. These verification technologies in the Arm Confidential Compute Architecture (Arm CCA) are part of the Armv9-A architecture. Said Columbia's Xupeng Li and Jason Nieh, "We've proved, for the first time, that the firmware is correct and secure, resulting in the first demonstration of a confidential computing architecture backed by formally verified firmware." Unlike previous approaches, Arm CCA is able to verify whether software, which must retain control of managing hardware resources, is secure.

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Tech Workers Long Got What They Wanted. That's Over
The Wall Street Journal
Katherine Bindley
July 15, 2022

Technology workers who once could name their salaries and expect to be allowed to work from anywhere increasingly are encountering resistance from both startups and tech giants. Amid fears of a recession, more employers are slowing their hiring, rethinking remote jobs, and even rescinding some job offers. Companies like Microsoft, Netflix, and Twitter recently reported layoffs, and Google announced plans to pull back on hiring for the remainder of the year. Recruiters, however, say highly skilled workers in areas like machine learning and artificial intelligence still have an advantage. Further, CompTIA reported more than a half-million tech jobs were posted in June, marking a 62% gain over the same time a year ago.

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HHMI Investigator Jay Shendure in his lab at the University of Washington. DNA Typewriter Taps Out a Record Inside Cells
Howard Hughes Medical Institute News
July 8, 2022

Researchers at Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) have developed a DNA typewriter that can encode text in cells. The researchers chose messages with historical significance, including quotes from Samuel F.B. Morse’s first long-distance telegraph transmission and Alexander Graham Bell’s first telephone call, as well as a lyric translated from a Korean pop song. Said HHMI's Jay Shendure, "We have accomplished something that's analogous to writing. We can create thousands of symbols, which we call barcodes, and we can capture them in order." The DNA typewriter can accommodate up 4,096 barcodes (short pieces of DNA), placing them one at a time from left to right. The researchers were able to track cell division by tagging dividing cells with barcodes.

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New York Police Department officers at the scene of a shooting in Brooklyn, NY. NYC, Chicago Waste Millions on Gunshot Detection Technology, Report Says
Fola Akinnibi
July 14, 2022

A report from the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project found that millions of dollars are spent annually by the New York City and Chicago police departments on ShotSpotter Inc.'s gunshot detection technology. The technology uses microphones and audio software to detect the sound of gunshots, with a human technician reviewing alerts to determine whether police need to be deployed. A report by the nonprofit contends the technology is ineffective and invasive. More than 200 jurisdictions worldwide use ShotSpotter’s technology according to the company, but U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filings reveal that New York and Chicago accounted for almost half of its first quarter 2022 revenue. The Chicago Police Department said the technology "has detected hundreds of shootings that would have otherwise gone unreported," but a 2021 city audit found evidence of a gun-related offense in just 9.1% of over 50,000 ShotSpotter alerts.

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MoveApps has helped conservationists launch rapid responses to vulture feeding events like this one. Code-Free Conservation
Max Planck Gesellschaft (Germany)
July 14, 2022

The MoveApps platform developed by scientists at Germany's Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior (MPI-AB) and University of Konstanz is a system for wildlife tracking. The system connects to the Movebank databank, which stores tracking data for over 1,000 species worldwide; data owners can shuttle this data into MoveApps to run analyses. MoveApps is built from analytical modules that access tracking data and can be combined into workflows; it eliminates the need for coding by letting data owners reach developers who can make tools for use by the entire community. MPI-AB's Andrea Kölzsch explained that to use MoveApps, "You just need to have a question that can be answered with animal tracking data." Conservationists at the North Carolina Zoo use MoveApps' clustering analysis tool to track African vultures and their feeding events.

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A Breath Test to Monitor Glucose Levels
IEEE Spectrum
Michelle Hampson
July 15, 2022

Researchers at George Mason University (GMU) and China's Nanjing Medical University (NMU) have developed an electronic nose (e-nose) to monitor the concentration of acetone and other ketones in exhaled breath, as they can indicate a number of metabolic conditions, including diabetes. SMU's Qiliang Li said, "The smell is an indicator of glucose level in the blood." The smell causes chemical sensors to transmit an electrical response to a microprocessor, which processes the signals into digital data. "The e-nose will then analyze the digital information with our database and give a correct number of glucose levels," said NMU's Xiangdong Zhou. The researchers trained the device on breath samples using machine learning algorithms, then combined models to read glucose levels with 90.4% accuracy.

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Model Helps Identify When Users Are Likely to Upgrade Software Products
University of Notre Dame News
Courtney Ryan
July 13, 2022

An international team of researchers led by the University of Notre Dame (ND) developed a computer model to help determine when consumers are likely to upgrade their software products. The researchers considered an annually upgraded sports video game with a dataset of over 60,000 players tracked across multiple generations of the game series. They hypothesized the most active players would be more likely to make upgrades, and focused on online purchases made before the game's release, which constitute a significant segment of the new product generation's sales. The researchers tested an exponential-decay proportional hazard model against other models to explain and anticipate consumers' upgrade behaviors. ND's Xinxue Qu said specialized users who only use a few functions are more willing to upgrade, and companies can apply the model to better forecast sales.

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'Retbleed' Speculative Execution Attack Affects AMD, Intel CPUs
The Hacker News
Ravie Lakshmanan
July 13, 2022

The "Retbleed" flaw discovered by Johannes Wikner and Kaveh Razavi at ETH Zurich in Switzerland targets older AMD and Intel central processing units as a channel for Spectre-based speculative-execution attacks. Retbleed is engineered to circumvent "return trampoline" (Retpoline) branch target injection countermeasures. "Retbleed aims to hijack a return instruction in the kernel to gain arbitrary speculative code execution in the kernel context," explained Wikner and Razavi. "With sufficient control over registers and/or memory at the victim return instruction, the attacker can leak arbitrary kernel data." To mitigate the potential threat, AMD has unveiled Jmp2Ret, while Intel has recommended employing enhanced Indirect Branch Restricted Speculation, even if Retpoline mitigations are implemented.

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Chanhong Lee and Ravi Tutika test the Octa-Glove, an octopus-inspired glove capable of securely gripping objects underwater. Underwater Glove Puts Octopus' Abilities on the Hand of Humans
Virginia Tech News
Alex Parrish
July 13, 2022

Researchers led by Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University's Michael Bartlett have developed a glove inspired by an octopus for securely gripping objects underwater. The researchers designed the Octa-glove to mimic the function of an octopus' suckers, activating an attachment to objects with light pressure, for clinging to flat and curved surfaces. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln's Eric Markvicka contributed an array of micro-light detection and ranging (LiDAR) optical proximity sensors, which were linked to the suckers via a microcontroller. Said Bartlett, "By merging soft, responsive adhesive materials with embedded electronics, we can grasp objects without having to squeeze. It makes handling wet or underwater objects much easier and more natural."

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A Bitcoin mining facility in Texas. Cryptomining Capacity in U.S. Rivals Energy Use of Houston
The New York Times
Hiroko Tabuchi
July 17, 2022

A Congressional probe found seven of the largest U.S. bitcoin mining companies could cumulatively use as much electricity as all the homes in Houston. The findings indicated the firms could tap up to 1,045 megawatts of power, and the companies said they intend to dramatically expand their capacity. Cryptomining enterprise Marathon Digital Holdings told the investigating committee it ran nearly 33,000 "mining rigs" as of February, up from slightly over 2,000 at the start of last year; the company plans to grow that number to 199,000 rigs by early 2023. The seven biggest cryptominers expected to boost their mining capacity by at least 2,399 megawatts in the years ahead, a nearly 230% gain from current levels.

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Meet the Improved Israeli Irrigation System
The Jerusalem Post
Lior Novik
July 16, 2022

Israel's Agriculture Ministry is promoting a digital irrigation system that will give winemakers the data and tools to cultivate grapes by estimating how much water to use, based on the most accurate weather information. A Web interface allows vintners to use data from the Ministry's weather stations, and collects data according to conditions in each area to save water. The system issues WhatsApp alerts to vintners, and connects to the irrigation systems to allocate the exact amount of water. Farmers input data such as location, grape varieties, desired wine quality, number of dunams (each about 900 sq. meters), and daily, weekly, and biweekly watering frequency. The system bases irrigation estimates on this data, and also factors in evaporation data updated daily.

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Event Mining for Explanatory Modeling
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